Observer Building

From Historical Hastings

Observer Building
General information
AddressCambridge Road
Postal CodeTN34 1DT
Admin. Information
Electoral/Planning WardCASTLE Pre May 2018
Prop. Ref. No.100062672050

The Observer Building[1] on Cambridge Road, Hastings, designed by Henry Ward was the printworks and editorial offices associated with the Hastings and St Leonards Observer newspaper, housing the 500[2] editorial and administrative staff between 1924 and 1984. The building itself, by nature of the distinctive fascia compared to the surrounding buildings, became a significant landmark for many residents in the town of Hastings, the building being described as 'The most imposing site in Hastings' in a BBC news report of 2006[3].


The building has a distinctive terracotta-glazed frontage produced by the brick company Ibstock Hathernware[4] with concrete mezzanine flooring behind and was designed by Henry Ward. Prior to construction, the site was occupied by terraced buildings similar to those further down the hill towards the town centre.

The building comprised 41,000 square feet of floor-space over seven floors with the building being built into and around the cliffs that formed the rear-aspect of Claremont and Cambridge Road.

Plan of tunnels under Observer Building

The printing presses were located on the first floor, with the electrical supplies and machine rooms on the ground floor/basement being extended during the 1930s into the sandstone caves in Claremont; this extension mainly took the form of tunnels dug by hand under Prospect Place to the houses on the opposite side of the road, although a large cavern had existed here prior to the construction of the building - this cavern being believed to have been dug out by the Breeds family in the 19th century[5].

Tunnel beneath Prospect Place

The work was carried out in the inter-war period, being intended to permit the Observer to carry on production even in the event of Air Raids. One room within the tunnels housed a mercury rectifier to provide DC power to the printing equipment, with a separate room housing the building's electricity sub-station.

What is believed to have been the Rectifier Room

A drive-shaft from the main engine in the basement powered the equipment in the tunnels, this shaft still being visible to the current day. Additional vaults held the metal-type furnaces and moulds, PH neutral water tanks and ink storage for producing the news-paper. Blast proof doors were installed within the tunnel system, at least one of which is planned to be retained within the building's re-development. A film was made by the Youtube channel Phoenix History about the tunnels and what has been uncovered to date and future plans. This film is linked below:-


Following a move of the Observer offices to new premises on the outskirts of Hastings, the building fell into disrepair for a number of years. A music rehearsal/recording studio[6] did operate from the basement of the building circa 1991,[7] but was otherwise unoccupied for some 34 years.[8]

There were plans to demolish the building in 2006, however this was not implemented[9] due to many local residents objections. A developer purchased the building in 2014[10], but failed to come up with plans that were approved by the local council[11], resulting in the building being left vacant again. Further plans were proposed to turn the building into student accommodation for students attending the local campus of Brighton University in 2016, again to not materialise when the University pulled out of Hastings[12].

In 2017, Hastings Borough Council approved plans for an artist studio on the lower ground floor, a residents’ gym on the mezzanine level and a restaurant and shop, plus 50 private flats and a private roof terrace. Unfortunately these plans did not come to fruition and after some essential work had been carried out on the internal structure, together with some community-driven usage the building was put back on sale for £1.5 million.[2]

Current Plans

Under the leadership of Jess Steele, White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures, the occupiers of Rock House Hastings, the more modern next-door building that also formed part of the Observer's property purchased the Observer building for £1.15 million in late 2018, with a ten-year plan to bring the building back into use.[2]

The plans as of December 2020 are for a mixed-use redevelopment which includes space for retail, offices, a microbrewery, 15 residential units, event and gym space, and management accommodation[13]

A limited tour of the building was given to members of the public by invitation during December of 2020

These works are being carried out with funding provided by a number of local organisations and grants from organisations such as Big Issue Invest, Castlestone Investments, Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council among others.


References & Notes

  1. Hastings Forum: Henry Ward, Architect - Hastings Forum, accessdate: 27 November 2019
  2. a b c The Independent: In Hastings, Organisation Workshop puts the unemployed in charge of regeneration | The Independent, accessdate: 27 November 2019
  3. Bid to preserve landmark building: BBC NEWS | England | Southern Counties | Bid to preserve landmark building, accessdate: 30 December 2019
  4. Ibstock Hathernware archivedate=2 July 2011
  5. "The America Ground" (Steve Peak 2021) ISBN: 9780750997317
  6. Light From Darkness Studios: Light From Darkness Studios, accessdate: 29 November 2019
  7. 911100 Turning the Tide A4_0.pdf: Annual Report - 911100 Turning the Tide A4_0.pdf, accessdate: 29 November 2019
  8. The Observer Building website
  9. Hastings' prolific yet forgotten Architect: Henry Ward - Hastings' prolific yet forgotten Architect, accessdate: 1 December 2019
  10. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer: London firm buys Observer building - Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, accessdate: 30 December 2019
  11. hbc-10a-fa8-10: HBC-10(a) HBC Planning Policy Hearing Nov 2014 Sect 5.8.11 , accessdate: 30 December 2019
  12. The Independent: The battle for Hastings: Is it a dumping ground for the dispossessed or ripe for gentrification? | The Independent, accessdate: 30 December 2019
  13. Inside the former Hastings Observer building ahead of its redevelopment | Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, accessdate: 21 December 2020